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Stories about the Rebbe

The Rebbe's Children

By Diane Abrams

When I was forty-eight years of age, I only had one child, Rachel, and my husband and I wanted another child. We went to a doctor who was considered an expert in the field, and she told us that we had less than a five percent chance of having another child. Throughout the time when we were visiting doctors and doing research on the possibility of having another child we had not told anyone about this, not even our parents. We were hoping and praying alone that we would have another child.

Every year on Hoshana Rabba (the final day of the holiday of Sukkot) we would come to the Rebbe to receive a traditional piece of honey cake and a blessing for a good and sweet year. That year we arrived directly from a funeral which Bob and I had attended; it was the first time we had not brought Rachel with us to the Rebbe.

Out of the blue, the Rebbe looked at us and gave us his blessing for "an addition to the family within the next year." I was stunned. How could he have known that this is what we wanted? We had made no such request of the Rebbe nor did we tell any of the Rebbe's secretaries about our wish. It was tremendously encouraging to me, and many times throughout the year I thought about the Rebbe's blessings, picturing the moment when the Rebbe gave us that special blessing.

Six weeks later, it was on Thanksgiving, I tested myself on one of those home pregnancy tests and it turned blue, indicating a positive result. I remember asking Rachel what color it was, and she said it was blue. I asked her again, "Are you sure it's not white?" And she said, "No, Mom, it is definitely blue!"

I immediately went to the doctor's office for a "real" test. Actually it was our daughter's pediatrician, because most doctors were not in on Thanksgiving Day.  He called back to say that the test was positive... but there must be some mistake because it simply could not be that I was pregnant! Instead, he advised that I take another test. Sure enough the second test was positive as well. I was absolutely ecstatic.

A year later, in my fiftieth year, I gave birth to a wonderful girl, Binyomina, or Becky, named after my father-in-law Binyomin, who was a very fine and special man.

The day I went to the hospital, Rachel, ten years old at the time, was at home. The phone rang, and Rachel answered. It was Rabbi Krinsky, one of the Rebbe's secretaries, calling at the Rebbe's behest. "Is everything okay with your mom?" he asked.

"I think so," Rachel responded. "She went to the hospital a few hours ago. I think she is about to have a baby." As it turned out, I was delivering our second child at that moment when Rabbi Krinsky called on the Rebbe's behalf!

Bob and Diane Abrams with Rebbe.jpgWhen Becky was a few months old, we went for our traditional annual Hoshana Rabba visit to the Rebbe. Normally, the line of people waiting to receive the Rebbe's blessings extended for three-four blocks along and around the Crown Heights streets, but the chassidim were always so very nice to us. When our car would arrive, somehow, somebody would come and lead us to the front of the line, sparing us the long wait.

We had the little infant in our hands. The Rebbe said, "I see you brought the addition to your family." This was a year later, and the Rebbe used the exact words he had used one year earlier. I said that we wanted to thank the Rebbe very much for giving us this beautiful child.

The Shabbos Candle Mitzvah Campaign

candle lighting 6In the 1970s, the branch of the Lubavitch Women's Organization dedicated to spreading the practice of kindling Shabbos candles, organized a series of radio ads encouraging women and girls to fulfill this mitzvah. Because federal law required that every ad have a commercial aspect, the notices mentioned that if the listeners sent one dollar to the Candle lighting Division of the Lubavitch Women's Organization at 770 Eastern Parkway, they would be sent a special set of Shabbos candle holders.

Thousands of these holders were distributed. At times, people would err, and instead of addressing their letters to the Lubavitch Women's Organization, they would send them to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

On one occasion, a woman living on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn wrote to ask for the Shabbos candle holders. She too erred, and addressed her letter to the Rebbe. The Rebbe received the letter in the Friday mail. On Friday afternoon, he had his secretary, Rabbi Binyamin Klein, call Mrs. Esther Sternberg (who ran the Shabbos candle campaign) and ask her to see to it that this woman had the opportunity to light Shabbos candles that Friday.

Mrs. Sternberg is not one to take a request from the Rebbe lightly. With 45 minutes left before Shabbos started, she tried to get the woman's phone number, but was told it was unlisted. Then, noting that the woman's address was not far away, she resolved to deliver the candle holders personally. If the woman was not home, she would leave it with a neighbor.

Taking two of her daughters along, Mrs. Sternberg drove (flew!) to the woman's apartment. She rang the bell and knocked several times, but there was no answer. She tried several of the neighbors' apartments, but they too did not answer. Finally, a woman from an apartment down the hall replied that, yes, she knew the woman who had asked for the candle holders. She was an elderly lady, said the neighbor, and hard of hearing. That's probably why she had not answered her bell; she hadn't heard it ringing!

And so Mrs. Sternberg, her two daughters, and the neighbor all knocked hard on the woman's door. Eventually, an elderly Jewish lady answered. She was grateful to see visitors, and even more grateful when she found that she would be able to light Shabbos candles that week.

Mrs. Sternberg was happy to give the woman the candle holders, but couldn't help wondering: The woman seemed sincerely committed to the mitzvah; why then hadn't she lit candles before? "Don't you have candle holders of your own?" she asked.

"Of course I have Shabbos candles," the woman told Mrs. Sternberg, taking her into her kitchen and showing her a large silver candelabra on top of one of the cabinets. "But when my children moved me here," she explained, "they put my candelabra up there. Neither I nor any of my neighbors can reach it! That's why I haven't been able to light." (Apparently, this woman, as do many others, mistakenly felt that Shabbos candles had to be lit in a ritual candelabra.)

One of Mrs. Sternberg's daughters climbed up and brought down the woman's candlesticks. And so, thanks to the Rebbe's concern and Mrs. Sternberg's commitment, the woman was able to light candles in her own candelabra that Shabbos.

On another occasion, the Rebbe received a letter from a man from Bowie, Maryland, asking that Shabbos candle holders be sent to his daughter. Again, the letter arrived on Friday, and again, the Rebbe had his secretary ask Mrs. Sternberg to see to it that the girl lit candles that Friday.

This time, it was only 20 minutes before Shabbos when Mrs. Sternberg was contacted. She immediately phoned one of the Shluchim in Maryland and asked if he could deliver candles to the girl. But the Shliach replied that Bowie was over two hours away; he had no way of delivering the candles in time.

Not seeing any alternative, Mrs. Sternberg located the family's phone number. The mother answered the phone. Yes, her husband had asked for the candleholders. She didn't light candles herself, but thought that it was a good idea for her daughter to light.

Mrs. Sternberg told her that she would be mailing the candle holders, but meantime, she would instruct her on how to make candle holders from aluminum foil so that her daughter would be able to light that Shabbos. And with no more than a drop of convincing, the mother agreed to join her daughter and light candles herself.

She listened diligently to Mrs. Sternberg's instructions, and wrote down the transliteration of the blessing word for word.

As they were talking, Mrs. Sternberg asked the woman if her daughter had any other friends who would like candle holders. The woman mentioned that there were several girls in her daughter's Hebrew School class who would probably appreciate such a gift. And in her own Chavurah group, she could think of a few women, and she had some other friends....

All in all, when Mrs. Sternberg prepared the package of candle holders to send to Bowie, it contained more than 40!

On the following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg received another call from the Rebbe's office. "The Rebbe wants to know what's happening with the girl in Bowie," the secretary told her.

Mrs. Sternberg again called the woman. Yes, her daughter had lit candles the previous Shabbos, and they had received the candle holders in the mail. Everyone was overwhelmed. Women were talking about it all over town.

"Could you send more?" she wanted to know. "My daughter has other friends... and I have other friends...."

And so, the following week, Mrs. Sternberg sent an even larger order of candle holders to Bowie.

The following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg did not wait for a call from the Rebbe's office. Instead, she phoned her new friend in Bowie herself. Yes, the candle holders had arrived and the women were very happy. What's more, the woman's friends and neighbors wanted to meet some of the ladies who had reached out and brought Shabbos light into their homes.

A Shabbaton was arranged. Women and girls from Crown Heights came and shared a Shabbos encounter with the community.

So it was that a few words from the Rebbe snowballed into an ongoing positive Jewish experience.

Saying Mazal Tov

by Tzvi Jacobs

Rebbe Farbrengen Ah.jpgEsther and I were married for 2 1/2 years before we had our first baby. It often happens that couples have to wait a while, and our story would be more dramatic if we were married for 10 years or more without being able to have children. Still, our story is unusual.

We had heard many stories and even had friends who had trouble either conceiving or carrying a baby to term, and after receiving a blessing and sometimes also advice from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, they had at least one baby. With those stories in mind, I went to Crown Heights in September, 1988. It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon and hundreds of people were in a long line waiting to see the Rebbe.

A black limousine pulled up in front of the house, and I overheard that some politicians from New York were arriving. An official escorted them straight in to receive a blessing and seek the Rebbe's advice on an important political issue.

The line didn't move for about 30 minutes. I became unsure if I should ask the Rebbe for a blessing. Should I make the Rebbe, who had been fasting and standing all day and would continue to do so until he met and blessed the final person who got in line, stand and fast for even five seconds longer?

As I looked back at the rapidly growing line, I spotted one of my Yeshiva teachers. "Should I ask the Rebbe for a blessing for a baby?" I asked.

"Sure you should ask," he answered me, erasing all my doubts.

The line started moving. My heart started beating harder. The Rebbe is an awesome figure. He is a man, but people say the Rebbe has the superhuman ability to see into anyone's soul, even someone on the other side of the globe who has never seen or even heard about the Rebbe.

Finally, I made it into the Rebbe's home. The line was moving quickly. It was my turn. "Blessing for baby," I blurted out nervously.

"Amen. In a good and auspicious time," the Rebbe said. He spoke with a clear, strong voice while handing me a second dollar bill.

By December Esther was suspicious. She went to the doctor and the results were positive. We were pregnant. We were ecstatic. But about a week later, the nurse told us the fetal protein level was high and they wanted to do an amniocentesis to find out more and, if need be, G-d forbid, recommend an abortion. But Judaism does not allow for abortions for such reasons. The doctor's staff was pushing for the amniocentesis, but we called back and said, "No thanks."

Only then did I find out that high fetal protein was indicative of Down's syndrome. I didn't tell Esther immediately what I had found out.

The following evening we went to Crown Heights for a friend's wedding and I broke down and told Esther. We were both crying.

The "siren" sounded meaning that the Rebbe was going to say a short public discourse after which the Rebbe gave out dollars for people to give to charity. We got into the line. I couldn't say anything to the Rebbe. I tried to believe that all this was a test from G-d and that it was really a big blessing. I would have to write a letter to the Rebbe. Esther had gone through the women's line and was already waiting for me in the car.

"The Rebbe said, 'Mazal tov' to me," Esther said. "How did he know that I'm pregnant?"

"I thought the Rebbe says 'mazal tov' only after a baby is born," I said.

"I know. I was starting to doubt that I heard him right. And then when I got into the car I saw was the back cover of this magazine."

It was a picture of a pregnant woman headlined, "Saying mazal tov is not enough." The advertisement then explained that a pregnant woman should have the "shir hama'alos" card in the delivery room, as a protection against any harm to the mother or newborn baby. It's a custom from Kabala and strongly encouraged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"Everything is going to be all right, Esti," I said. The Rebbe saying "mazal tov" calmed us down a lot. We just had normal worries and fears throughout the rest of the pregnancy. On Sunday night, May 9, Esther went into labor. At about 20 past midnight we drove to the Morristown hospital and went straight to maternity. At 12:55 a.m. the nurse called out, "Congratulations! It's a girl. A beautiful baby girl."

By the way, you can be sure that when we went into that delivery room, we had our "shir hama'alos--saying `mazal tov' is not enough" cards--one for the mother, one for the baby, and a spare for the expectant father.

Esther was so happy and thankful to be a mother--and to have such a healthy, adorable baby--that she wrote a thank-you note to the Rebbe about four months after Chaya Mushka Bracha was born. While writing the letter, Esther saw a friend walk past. She was still childless. So Esther added a note at the end of her letter: "May the Rebbe please give Leah bas Sara a blessing to have a baby."

Our Sages teach that when you pray for someone else, G-d blesses the one who prayed for his fellow first. Three months later both Esther and her friend were expecting. Our Nechama Dina was born within two weeks of Leah's baby.

I hope that this one little story gives you some insight into who the Rebbe is.

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